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Retail reality check

Web posted on January 15, 2005

Attention Shoppers...

Hello everyone! This is my first column, so please bear with me.

I work retail, and have done so for 20 years now. Not in the offices, or hidden in the warehouse, but out there on the floor. Many sales clerks jokingly call ourselves "moving targets". Unfortunately, this is all too true sometimes.

As I see it, a typical civilized person tries very hard to not let personal circumstances affect how he conducts himself at work. Unfortunately, this effort doesn't seem to extend to other human interactions outside the workplace. Just because the fresh-faced kid in front of you is paid to serve you doesn't mean you can treat that kid like dirt.

We are not your servants or slaves. We are people, just like you, and, whether you like it or not, we are your equals. That 'do unto others...' suggestion isn't only for Sundays.

We assist you with your shopping. Without us, there is no stock on the shelves, no nice displays, no easy access to what you want or need. Plus, there would be no testing, sampling, leafing through, or touching an item before you purchase it: you would be internet-shopping for everything.

We are a resource. Without us, there are no handy hints, no clarification of instructions, no person to bounce ideas off of. Go do your own research and figure it out yourself, or pay $$ to ask a consultant or take a course.

We have lives outside of the store. When I'm not at work, please don't run over and ask about something I helped you with a month ago while I'm having dinner with my family. That's just plain rude, although I can guarantee I won't tell you that at the time.

"If you can't treat me decently, please take your business elsewhere." I've never met anyone who's worked in retail who didn't want to yell that at the top of their lungs at least once. Personally, I have those moments about once per week.

We've all experienced the non-professionals in our lives. Remember the grocery bagger who squishes your peaches with the frozen turkey, the cashier who is too busy filing her nails to help you look for something, the manager who is too busy to train his staff correctly, or that slovenly salesman? They are the co-workers we look at and think to ourselves, "that guy makes us all look bad!"

This is true in retail, too. There are clerks who work to eke out a living, and clerks who enjoy what they are doing. You don't work retail to get rich: it's either a stop-gap measure or you actually like doing it. The stop-gappers are motivated by the money, plain and simple, and are less likely to be interested in learning and sharing information with their customers. It is too bad, but it is a fact of life.

I hope that you have gained a little insight into something that you probably took for granted. A dedicated and professional retail sales clerk is worth his or her weight in gold: the returning (and expanding) customer base and more smoothly-running sales floor alone shows this to be true. Now, if only the store owners would express their gratitude by paying staff what they're truly worth... but that's another column.

Bee has been working retail for 20 years, and has been shopping for many years more.
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